In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, we learn that John wrote this concluding work of the New Testament (Rev. 1:1–4a). That the author identifies himself simply as “John,” with no reference to his family or any other information to distinguish him from the many other Christians named John in the first century, indicates that he was well known to his original audience. All they needed to hear was that he was “John” in order to know his identity.
For us to identify John is more difficult, however. The style of Greek used in Revelation as well as the extensive use of the Old Testament indicates he was a Jew from Palestine. Thus, we have reason to believe that he was John the son of Zebedee, the well-known disciple whom Jesus loved and author of the gospel of John and the books of 1, 2, and 3 John. Most of the church has held that this John, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, wrote Revelation, though some have not. Even if another John wrote Revelation, the author was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the meaning of the book would be unchanged.
Besides differences over the author of Revelation, there have also been different approaches to interpreting the book. We can distinguish four main ways of interpretation. First is the futurist interpretation, which holds that most of the book is about events after John’s era and is one of the most popular evangelical ways of understanding Revelation today. Second, the historicist position says that the book gives us in symbolic terms the entire history of the church from the first century to the return of Christ. Few interpreters of Revelation are historicists today. Third, the idealist position sees Revelation as communicating timeless truths about the church and God’s war with Satan. Fourth, we have the partial preterist approach, which says that most of the book of Revelation refers to first-century events and people. Each approach likely provides at least some insight depending on the specific passage we are reading in Revelation. Moreover, whichever approach is taken, we must be clear that Revelation does foresee a final return of Christ at the end of history to consummate His plan.
John wrote to the “seven churches in Asia,” seven congregations in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey, that we meet in Revelation 2–3. Seven is an important number in the Bible and especially in Revelation, often conveying completion or fullness. These seven churches are representative of the whole; John writes to them but intends his message for the full church around the world.